Dave asks: is there life in Labour?

December 29, 2011 at 12:23 pm (AWL, Cross-post, labour party, socialism)

Our old chum Dave Osler asks an important question, and provokes a good discussion over at his Part:

By Dave Osler

Despite the failure of Russia’s latest space probe, scientists are rightly determined to continue their search for life on Mars. The way things are going right now, it looks like that quest will reach fruition long before anyone ever discovers signs of life in the Labour Party.

It’s not that I saw the defeat of New Labour at the ballot box last year as a prelude to a rerun of the Bennite years. Apart from anything else, the weight of the left both inside and outside Labour is insufficient to permit stuff like that. To revamp a period slogan, it’s never again for “never again”.

But as a Labour Party member myself, my expectation was that some sort of internal discussion over the way Labour governed for 13 years would open up. Perhaps some leading figures would finally give voice some of the criticisms they had been bottling up while the Thought Police held sway throughout Oceania.

Even the re-emergence of a distinctly social democratic current would mark a step forward of sorts, especially if it were open to dialogue with Marxism. But more than 18 months after the return of the ConDems, nobody on the left has even properly attempted a balance sheet of the 1997-2010 experience and asked what lessons should have been learned.

Interestingly, soon after Cameron got the keys to 10 Downing Street, there were reports of an upsurge in new recruits to Labour. Some of these people briefly made an appearance at my ward meetings. I hate to generalise from the particular, but no attempt seems to have been made systematically to integrate this layer.

Then there was the election of Ed Miliband to the leadership, by the narrowest of margins. Red Ed — as he was misleadingly dubbed by the tabloids — sometimes seems to speak in a strange kind of political code.

This or that comment is designed to be read between the lines as an encouragement to the soft left, although even then, they are usually counterbalanced with some ostensibly even-handed sop to rightist opinion. Is he or is he not to the left of, say, Hugh Gaitskell? Discuss.

Nor does what remains of Labour’s small remaining hard left seem to be striding ahead, if the recent Labour Representation Committee conference is anything to go by. The LRC claims to have grown by 10% in the last year, although that is from a low base.

But attendance at the event appeared to be down on last year. Many executive places were uncontested and even the LRC’s undoubted leading MP John McDonnell found constituency commitments more pressing than staying to the end of the proceedings.

In so far as what is going on in the Labour Party tells us things about the state of consciousness in the British working class, all this stuff actually does matter.

I am not an AWL member, but as the organisation makes at least some of its internal debates public, I recall that orientation towards Labour was controversial within the group a couple of years back.

Majority opinion believed that it was worth maintaining some sort of presence, and at least one other far left grouping seem to have reached a similar conclusion, with familiar faces cropping up in new guises at Labour Party events.

But it is worth asking what revolutionary socialists can usefully achieve in stumping up for a Labour Party card. The old entrism tactic of past decades seems scarcely applicable. The contentions that Labour can be transformed into a revolutionary party, or even that a mass revolutionary current can be built inside it, seems more farfetched even then before.

Nor is it obvious to me that the membership are especially receptive to socialist ideas; a substantial proportion of it is actively hostile. And if it is radical youth and students you are after, the Labour Party is just about the last place you will find them.

The most persuasive argument is that there are so few other outlets for activity, to the point where even limited possibilities can start to look appealing. Permit me to briefly revert to the life on Mars analogy; life on Labour, even if it only amounts to the presence of microbes, would at least establish that we are not alone in the universe. At least for now, we should keep looking.

Source URL: http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/12/14/life-labour


  1. representingthemambo said,

    It is a good piece, some good comments underneath, not least from some guy called Lawrence Shaw:

    “I think the bigger problem with the “outside Labour” forces is they wilfully refuse to recognise they are on the back foot – as they currently are.

    All statistics over the past 12 years shows a steady and inexorable decline in the fortunes of all “outside left” Labour projects in England. This has culminated in catastrophic events like the dismal, demoralising and almost comically low vote received by the TUSC project in the recent Brighton city council by-election of just 20 votes. Less people voting for the alternative than you could normally expect attending yet another set-piece “public meeting” at any point over the last decade.

    Many in the sects refuse to recognise this decline at all, instead stating that “we must keep trying” like those bird-men who throw themselves off the end of a seaside pier every year in the belief that, this time, they really will fly.

    Those more enlightened and experienced cadres that do recognise and admit to the decline will instead attempt to explain away this failure to build a serious left on any number of things including the treachery of the Labour Party, the treachery of the trade union “bosses”, the systematic propaganda attack by the media, the sustained long-term attack on the working classes by all bosses, in fact, absolutely EVERYTHING and ANYTHING other than the fact their own methods may be at fault.

    Whilst it is true conditions are not favourable at present (when have they ever been though?), it is also very clear to me that the single biggest problem is religiously following an interpretation of the methods of party-building as decreed by long-deceased Russians trying to build socialism in an impoverished and vast agrarian 1900s foreign society as if it were some sort of blueprint for 2012 Britain.

    Flogging papers and magazines nobody ever really wants to buy or read, holding the set-piece “public meetings” that are only ever actually attended by your own members and handful of supporters and fellow travellers but convincing yourself you are breaking through to the masses, steadily losing members through demoralisation and burn-out and therefore recruiting madly in order to stand still numerically – it is clear that these methods are simply there in order to sustain full-time party bureaucracies rather than mount any serious challenge to the Labour Party.

    In the face of all of this abject failure, and the fact that voters appear to be returning – perhaps albeit reluctantly – to Labour it does appear to support the theory that currently the best place to be in order to unseat this wicked Tory government is inside Labour, fighting and winning people to your ideas one by one in that arena.

    I suppose it also comes down to whether you genuinely believe the Labour Party were on the whole worse than the Tories when in power. Blairs warmongering aside, I don’t believe anything backs up the assertion that New Labour at its worst were a patch on this current bunch of crooks and Thatcherites. To go around parroting the line that Labour are no different is imbecilic and disingenuous.

    I have no beef with any individual member of any group or party. But it really does annoy me when, in the face of such derisory results in engaging with the wider public, many of those people attempt to paint the left in the Labour Party as the only ones who are failing at the present time.”

  2. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    the labour party needs to be destroyed. Instead of asking “is there life in Labour”, the correct question needs to be asked “When does the post-mortem begin and can I buy tickets?”

    • representingthemambo said,

      What would that accomplish? The labour party isn’t the cause of the left’s failure, its the symptom.

  3. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

  4. Roger said,

    The problem is one of timeliness.

    Despite (or because of) being a member and CLP officer I can well see the attraction of Labour being consigned to the scrap heap of history like the Italian PSI was in the 1990s and replaced by a shiny new socialist party.

    But that would leave the political field even more completely dominated by bourgeois parties which have now declared open war on all of us and are dedicated to the destruction of the welfare state, the NHS, state education and anything that makes life even semi-tolerable,

    The question is now one of personal and class survival and while Labour is a weapon that has been broken and blunted by decades of betrayal it is nonetheless still the only one we have.

  5. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    lesser evilissm.

    utter shit in otherbwerds

  6. Robin Carmody said,

    For what it’s worth, I agree with Lawrence Shaw and Roger.

    For exponents of a hard-left position to quote Adorno – who, for all his good and interesting ideas, held views on mass culture every bit as fearful and reactionary as those of Hitchens Minor – pretty much sums up precisely *why* they are fucked. You do *not* win over the public by telling them that they are stupid and everything they like is stupid. That pretty much hands elections to the Tories.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      Robin Carmody says: “You do *not* win over the public by telling them that they are stupid and everything they like is stupid.”

      Adorno says: “and it is true as today as in the medieval era, that only fools speak the truth to power. In this respect it is the duty of the dialectician to help this truth of the fool to attain the consciousness of its own reason [Vernunft], without which it would indeed perish in the abyss of that sickness, pitilessly dictated by the common sense of others.”

      Conclusion: Carmody either cannot read, nor comprehend, or both. Or is a wilful idiot and obscurantist. either way – contemptible.

      • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

        there does come a point where the pedagogic style can become a pitying one, with the instructor (i.e. ME) saying only stupidity prevents the pupil (humanity) from seeing what he/it/she ought to see. It’s no concession to the amoralism of assorted mystifiers to assert that one of the delights of argument lies in ambiguity and that relativity is not always the same as relativism. Anyway – hope that lot is of help.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      PPS. “Yet how ill does everything growing seem…”

      The 45th aphorism of Theodore Adorno’s Minima Moralia, I happen to like the line, especially as capitalist society seems to measure its health by its growth, while to me, it seems sickly and vile in all the meanings of the words ‘growth’ and ‘society’ and all so mis-deployed.

  7. Roger said,

    M Jelly,

    As Richard Neville pointed out back in c.1970 there may only be an inch of difference between Labour and the Tories – but that inch happens to be where an awful lot of us happen to live.

  8. SteveH said,

    I am not sure there is an inch anymore, New Labour’s third wayism paved the way for Cameron’s big society (Oh how they both love a meaningless label!). Tory and New Labour are engaged in a merry dance and we live in the middle of it all, not just the dwindling space that divides the parties.

    And ever has it been thus.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      a werd salad of meaningless strings of letters randomly appended in a white space under a blerggHH Post. Like what you can see on a billion other blergghS. That’s your shite steveH. But you are a bigger cretin than most. That’s you that is. Like a dead woodlice on a bit of dead tree rotting in a wood that nobody ever goes to. That’s you that is.

  9. Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

    and everyone shud just read what Osler sed here in response to the ignoramous steve Haitch here a few days ago re PreSS TV. and his non-answer in response. speaks volumes of the turd steve haitch

  10. SteveH said,


    Have now responded to Dave here:


    And Jelly, taking insults from someone who supports carpet bombing human beings is really water off a ducks back. Your attempt to dress your sick morality up in post modernist I am a bit out with the fairies gibberish? (or are you genuinely disturbed?) does not impress me one iota.

    • Monsuer Jelly est Formidable said,

      “And Jelly, taking insults from someone who supports carpet bombing human beings”

      ha ha ha. this is the problem with fucknutts like cuernts like you. “Carpet bombing”… ha ha ha.

      IdioTT and fool and utter cretin. scum as well like. and a dead woodlice in a forest that nobody ever goes to. Arsetrumpetting morAN

  11. John McDonnell MP said,


    Just a minor correction. I left the LRC conference after the morning session because i was booked to speak at the Unite the Resistance conference that afternoon. All part of the LRC’s role in building alliances with other campaigns.


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